As the details of treatment meted out to Devyani Khobragade emerged, some thirty senior Indian Foreign Service officers met foreign secretary Sujatha Singh.
During the meeting on Sunday, they urged Singh to move swiftly on increasing the diplomatic immunity of Khobragade, who was doing consular duty when she was arrested on charges of underpaying her maidservant. It was decided that the officer should be posted at the permanent mission of India in New York.
Should US State Department agree, the diplomat would get a G-1 visa —given to permanent mission members of a recognised government to a designated international organisation that has greater immunity.
However, it is not so simple. If the diplomat gets indicted by New York attorney Preet Bharara before the visa comes through, it may be impossible to avoid Khobragade going to court.
“It is up to the US. We moved swiftly on seeking her appointment with our UN mission in New York. We do hope the US doesn’t want to rock the boat any further and ensures the visa comes through,” said a senior official.
A G-I visa coming through would probably open the window for settling the issue. Her lawyer, Daniel Arshack of Arshack, Hajek & Lehrman, told Reuters on Wednesday that the transfer to a new post “provides immunity for acts before or after the appointment".
The state department guide addressing termination of immunity says (in part): “Criminal immunity precludes the exercise of jurisdiction by the courts over an individual whether the incident occurred prior to or during the period in which such immunity exists.”
Not all diplomats, including those in the US and India, are convinced this would stop an indictment.
Some Indian officials argue the state department’s direct intervention can bring a “de facto end to the case”. Or, barring that, the view is that the White House could directly intervene.
Without going into details, external affairs minister Salman Khurshid said, “In a country where presidential pardon exists, there could be ways to address our demands of dropping the charges against the officer.”
However, US diplomats are less certain that there is an “exit strategy” given what they understand of the strength and independence enjoyed by public prosecutors and the judiciary in general.